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Tampa Bay Rays: Time for Alex Colome to Close?

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Tampa Bay Rays closer Brad Boxberger leads the AL in saves with 33, but that seems to be more ironic than anything else. After last night’s game with the Orioles, when he couldn’t hold onto a two-run lead in the ninth inning, Boxberger also leads the AL in blown saves with 6. He has nine losses charged to him this year, and, after last night, an ERA of 3.40. Boxberger is a talented young pitcher who retains the ability to get back on track. However, he simply has not been good enough when the Rays have needed him most.

Alex Colome, meanwhile, has always had a world of stuff and has finally started to use it in the right manner since moving to relief in July. In the 16 games he’s pitched since July 17th, Colome has an 0.36 ERA, striking out 25 while walking only 4. He has reached an even loftier echelon in his last 11 appearances, allowing no runs in 15.2 innings. In that span, he has given up just 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 18, holding opposing batters to just a .083/.115/.083 line. Given those numbers, is it time for the Rays to switch closers?

Think about where the Rays would be today if Boxbeger had only blown 3 saves, and lost four games–they would be leading or tied for the second wild card spot. What’s done is done, but could the Rays benefit by having Colome close games instead of Boxberger the rest of the year? The answer isn’t as clear as you might think. Aside from the pressure that pitchers put on themselves when they become closers, there is one other key factor: Colome’s ability to toss multiple innings.

Colome has given the Rays more than one inning in five of his last eight appearances, and it would be more difficult for him to do that as the Rays’ closer. He could occasionally come in for a four- or five-out save, but given that doing so would limit his availability in the days after, Kevin Cash would be unlikely to do so often. Colome has been so incredible because he hasn’t just been a great pitcher, he has been a great pitcher that has been able to toss multiple innings. Moving him to the closer position would prevent him from doing that as frequently.

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A common refrain among more sabermetrically inclined fans is that closers are overrated. We can debate the merits of that statement for a long time, but in the case of Colome, who would actually lose something by becoming the Rays’ closer, the argument to keep him pitching earlier in games makes a lot of sense. Boxberger may be having his issues in the ninth, but without having Colome to escape a jam in the seventh and then pitch the eighth, the Rays would need to use more pitchers and would be less likely to keep leads, especially as everyone gets fatigued from being used more.

Alex Colome has find his niche in the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen, and unless continued struggles from Brad Boxberger give the Rays no choice, he should stay in his current role. If Boxberger can right himself to join the surprisingly effective trio of Colome, Brandon Gomes, and Xavier Cedeno, the Rays could have quite a late-inning relief core. Otherwise, Colome will need to close, Boxberger will head into limbo, and the Rays will trade a more comfortable ninth inning for less certainty in earlier frames.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays MiLB Recap: P-Rays Lose Playoff Opener

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